Senate votes to preserve Obama-era methane gas regulation


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This methane gas collector near Tuscan, Arizona pipes methane from a landfill to Tuscan Electric Power where it is used to generate electricity. (Gene Spesard/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | May 12, 2017

The U.S. senate voted on Wednesday to uphold an Obama-era rule that limits the release of methane from oil and gas production on federal land.

The Republican-majority senate voted 51-49 to block the resolution. Three GOP senators, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona voted with their democratic colleagues against the motion. Senate Republicans proposed  repealing the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). So far in 2017, 14 regulations have been repealed under the CRA including a stream buffer rule aimed at keeping coal mining debris from entering waterways and another rule that gave the public some say about what happens to federal land.

President Obama updated the decades-old-rule that governs the venting and flaring of methane gas and regulates natural gas leaks. Upon the rule’s establishment, the Obama administration projected it could keep 41 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas per year from going to waste. Methane, which is often released during the production of natural gas, is short-lived but 100 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Republican senator John McCain agreed with those hoping to keep the rule in place. He said, “Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue, which is why some states are moving forward with their own regulations requiring greater investment in recapture technology.”

Opponents of the rule say that it discourages U.S. energy production and hurts state and county revenue streams. However, the Western Value Project estimates that the U.S treasury would have lost out on $800 million in royalties from oil and gas production over then next decade if the rule had been revoked.

Warming ponds could speed up climate change


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Small ponds used by researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University. (University of Exeter)
Jenna Ladd | February 23, 2017

A recent study shows that when freshwater ponds warm, they release more methane and are able to store less carbon dioxide.

Researchers at the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London warmed a collection of man-made ponds by four to five degrees Celsius over the course of seven years. The first of its kind, the study found that the amount of methane released by the ponds increased by double while the amount of carbon dioxide the ponds could store decreased by half.

Professor Gabriel Yvon-Durocher was the study’s lead investigator. He said, “Given the substantial contribution small ponds make to the emission of greenhouse gases, it is vital to understand how they might respond to global warming.”

While ponds and lakes only account for about 0.008 percent of the total volume of water on Earth, they are major contributors of carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gases from freshwater sources are mostly the byproduct of organic matter breaking down in low-oxygen environments.

Yvon-Durocher continued, “Our findings show that warming can fundamentally alter the carbon balance of small ponds over a number of years, reducing their capacity to absorb and increasing emissions of methane. This could ultimately accelerate climate change.”

The scientist noted that these findings are different than those normally observed on land, where the effect of rising temperatures lessen over time. In contrast, when ponds warm and release methane, a gas that is known to be 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, they actually exacerbate warming.

Ponds of less than one meter, such as those used in the study, are responsible for the release of 40 percent of all inland methane emissions.

 

The professor noted, “This accelerating effect in ponds, which could have serious impacts on climate change, is not currently accounted for in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models.”

The complete study can be found in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Animal manure could create a new energy market in Iowa


A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)
A screenshot of the Iowa Biogas Assessment Model website potential for ag waste across the state. (Iowa Biogas Assessment Model)

Nick Fetty | April 23, 2015

Iowa could soon use the byproducts from two of its biggest industries – crop and livestock production – to create a new market in renewable fuel production, according to a report in Midwest Energy News.

This potential new market is the result of policy and economics. Last summer, a revision to EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) increased the value of biogas in the fuel marketplace. The revision means biogas will be added to the list of advanced cellulosic biofuels which refineries must either produce or purchase credits for. The quantity of cellulosic fuels that must be blended with gasoline is expected to increase over the next eight years which means higher prices for renewable fuels. Amanda Bilek, government affairs manager at the Great Plains Institute in Minneapolis, said this change to the RFS has created a new market for fuels produced using manure and other organic waste.

A 2013 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that Iowa led the nation in manure production. The study also examined methane content in not just manure but also wastewater, landfills and industrial as well as commercial organic waste. The Hawkeye State ranked 8th nationally for methane generation potential.

Iowa State University teamed up with EcoEngineers out of Des Moines to create an interactive map and website which calculates the amount of methane-containing waste within up to a 50-mile radius. Biogas production in Iowa has been modest thus far but officials expect the industry to grow in the coming years.

Converting food waste into energy


Compost pile. Photo by Joi Ito; Flickr
Compost pile. Photo by Joi Ito; Flickr

Wastewater treatment plants are on the cutting edge of renewable energy production, using technology that allows them to convert trash into valuable energy.

Food waste is first shipped to wastewater facilities, where it is mixed with sewage. The combined waste produces a gas, composed mostly of methane, that can be burned as fuel. In addition to this biogas, some facilities, like Des Moines’ wastewater treatment plant, are even able to produce an organic mixture that serves as an effective fertilizer.

This method is also beneficial to the environment, since methane is a greenhouse gas and would contribute to global warming if released into the atmosphere.

There are currently 15 facilities in the United States that utilize this technology, compared to thousands in Europe. Experts predict that this trend, along with composting, will continue to grow and innovate.

For more information, read the article at Environment 360.

For instructions on how to create a compost bin for your home, click here.

White House announces methane emissions plan


Flickr; Charlie Coffey.
Flickr; Charlie Coffey.

The White House has released a plan to help reduce methane emissions in agriculture, along with other industries in an effort to combat climate change.

Methane accounts for 9 percent of the domestic greenhouse gas emissions, and has increased by 11 percent since 1990, the White House said.

The plan involves capturing livestock manure by using biodigesters to generate electricity. The White House then suggests using it to avoid fuel costs or provide an additional source of revenue.

Click here for more information on the proposed plan.

From Trash to Energy


Photo by Jeffery Beall; Flickr

 

Waste Management, a Houston company, will break ground this week on a $7 million methane gas recovery facility at Iowa’s biggest landfill in eastern Polk County.  Continue reading

On the Radio: Iowa City businesses use composting to reduce waste


Compost pile. Photo by bunchofpants, Flickr.
Compost pile. Photo by bunchofpants, Flickr.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s segment discusses the efforts of Iowa City businesses to reduce waste through composting.

Businesses in and around Iowa City are using composting to reduce their impact on the environment.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Continue reading